Two Years Ago: Salmon with Pumpkin-Seed Cilantro Pesto
I'm posting this recipe now because Valentine's Day is coming up and you might be thinking about making a special meal. If you love seafood, this is a great way to enjoy a very special meal without breaking the bank. I made this gratin with lobster and shrimp, but you could use all lobster or all shrimp or even crab. The sauce is rich and creamy, and the breadcrumb topping adds a wonderful crunch. Served over pasta, the gratin is filling enough that a moderate amount of seafood is more than plenty. I bought two small (6-8 oz) lobster tails and 10 extra-large (U13-15) shrimp at the store for about $30. Including the other ingredients, this dish cost around $35 to make, which is under $9 per serving. That's very affordable considering what you would pay for it in a restaurant.
Although the lobster tails were small and there were only 10 shrimp, the lobster meat is cut into pieces and the shrimp are cut in half lengthwise (head to tail) so each diner receives half a lobster tail in addition to 5 shrimp pieces in their portion. The other cool thing about cutting the shrimp lengthwise is that they curl into very pretty corkscrew shapes when they cook. (The slight yellow tint after cooking is due to the saffron in the cooking sauce.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that there is a fair amount of prep work involved in preparing the seafood, chopping vegetables, making the sauce, cooking the vegetables, and preparing the breadcrumb topping. First of all, it's SO worth it. And second, the good news is that it can all be done in advance. I mean, who wants to be slaving away in the kitchen when you're trying to have a special dinner? If you assemble the dish in advance you may want to extend the cooking time by a few minutes just to be sure the sauce gets good and hot - check for bubbles around the edges.
Speaking of vegetables, I have to get in a plug for farmer's markets whenever possible - check out the spectacular carrots I found this week.
I know this isn't the lowest-calorie menu I've ever posted, but you can lighten it somewhat if you want by using half and half instead of heavy cream. And hey, it's a special meal. I read a quote yesterday by some celebrity or other who said that she tried to eat healthy but also allowed herself to splurge. She said it's all about the balance of good to bad, and I agree. What fun is life if you don't allow yourself a treat once in a while? Just be sure to go back to healthy eating again the next day!
My last comment is about the gratin dish - I love my gratin dish but if you don't happen to have one, don't worry. Use any baking dish you have that's relatively wide and shallow (this dish is about 12" x 9") rather than small and deep. That's because it's all about spreading the breadcrumb topping as widely as possible so every bite has that wonderful crunch in addition to the creamy sauce and seafood.
Serve the gratin with a fresh green salad, crusty bread and a good wine and your guests will be very impressed.
Lobster and Shrimp Gratin
1 cup seafood stock or clam juice
1 cup heavy cream (or half and half)
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons white wine, divided
3 tablespoons tomato puree
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
10 very large (U13-15) raw shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed, cut in half lengthwise (head to tail)
2 small (6-8 oz) raw lobster tails, meat removed from shell and cut into pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
¾ cup chopped carrot
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 cloves minced fresh garlic
8 oz spaghetti or fettuccine, cooked
For the Sauce:
Combine the stock, cream, ½ cup of wine, tomato puree and saffron in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and add the shrimp and lobster pieces. After 3 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the shrimp and lobster to a bowl and set aside.
Continue to simmer the sauce until reduced by half, about 12 minutes. Mash 1 tablespoon of butter together with the flour. Whisk the butter mixture into the sauce along with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Simmer, stirring constantly until thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium sauté pan. Add the leeks and carrots and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until softened. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of wine, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until tender. Set aside.
Combine the panko, Parmesan, parsley, tarragon, and garlic. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and mix it into the crumbs until moistened.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Spray a 9” x 12” grain dish (or similar-sized shallow baking dish) with nonstick cooking spray. Place the shrimp and lobster pieces in the dish, followed by the vegetables. Pour the sauce evenly over the top and cover with the breadcrumb mixture. Place on a baking sheet (for ease of lifting) and bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbly.
Serve hot over hot cooked pasta.